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Here's why workers quit during the Great Resignation

·5-min read

What’s fueling the Great Resignation? One survey has dug into the job-hopping.

The biggest factors are money and career growth, a recent Pew Research survey of workers showed, with nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents citing those as major or minor reasons they quit their jobs in 2021.

Feeling disrespected at work came in third, with 57% of workers citing it as a resignation factor. Other big factors behind quitting included flexibility, benefits, and better hours.

With a record 4.5 million people quitting their jobs in March alone, the survey underscores that workers continue to take advantage of the labor imbalance set off by COVID to find a better employer-employee match.

“The pandemic opened up opportunities for many workers,” Kim Parker, one of the authors of the study, told Yahoo Money.

A record 4.5 million workers quitting their jobs in March alone.
A record 4.5 million workers quitting their jobs in March alone. (Photo: Getty Creative)

‘Higher compensation is employers' number one tool’

Once workers found a new job, for the most part they found the better pay and work flexibility that they sought, according to the survey.

Overall, 56% of workers are making more money than at their previous jobs, while 53% of workers surveyed told Pew they had greater work-life balance and career advancement.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of college graduates reported earning more in their new job and had more career advancement opportunities. Some lower-income workers still struggled despite gaining new employment. Just over a quarter (27%) reported making less in their new positions, while 18% said they had fewer career advancement.

“Higher compensation is employers' number one tool to attract new workers and retain current employees. Wage growth is so high right now because competition for workers is so intense,” said Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed. “If an employer can't afford higher compensation, they could make changes on the working hours front by offering more hours or providing flexibility.”

A sign for hire is posted on the door of a GameStop in New York City, U.S., April 29, 2022.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A sign for hire is posted on the door of a GameStop in New York City, U.S., April 29, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The survey backs up Bunker.

Almost 4 in 10 workers quit because they worked too many hours, while 3 in 10 left because they felt they weren’t given enough hours at work.

Flexibility was a major factor in why workers voluntarily left their jobs, with 45% of workers citing it as a major or minor reason. But it was a bigger reason for certain groups of workers.

For instance, almost half (49%) of non-college graduate workers noted flexibility as a reason for resignation versus 39% of college graduate employees. More than half (52%) of minority workers said that not having enough flexibility in work hours and relocation contributed to them quitting their jobs, compared with 38% of white workers.

Once they quit, half of workers said that their new jobs gave them more flexibility in their work hours.

“Companies could make jobs more appealing to mothers by advertising the ability to flex hours. Another possibility is that employers could provide more certainty around hours,” Bunker said. “Some jobs have schedules that can be highly variable from week to week. That can be tricky to navigate when a mother has to negotiate finding childcare options as well.”

Benefits are still hard to come by

Benefits also played a role in workers’ decisions to quit, with 43% of workers citing it as a factor. Almost a quarter said that not having medical insurance or paid time off were major reasons for their resignation.

But changing jobs didn’t necessarily help workers get more benefits.

“Only 42% of workers who quit in 2021 said that they have better benefits than in their current careers, while 22% of employees said they actually have fewer benefits than in their last positions,” Parker said.

COVID and quitting

While COVID helped set up the labor landscape that ushered in this Great Resignation, its vaccine was not a big factor in workers’ resignation decisions. Overall, only 18% of workers quit because of an employer’s vaccination requirement, according to the survey. But that varied widely by type of worker.

While only 21% of college graduates said the vaccine mandate was a factor in quitting, 34% of workers without a college degree cited it as a reason for seeking new employment.

“The survey found that 27% of non-White workers quit because of the vaccine requirement compared to 10% of White workers,” Parker said.

Who quit?

37% of workers under 30 voluntarily leaving their jobs compared with 17% of workers aged 30-49 and 5% of employees aged 50-64.
37% of workers under 30 voluntarily leaving their jobs compared with 17% of workers aged 30-49 and 5% of employees aged 50-64. (Photo: Getty Creative)

College-educated workers quit their jobs at a lower rate than non-college graduates. Those who had postgraduate degrees were least likely to leave their jobs.

Only 13% of post-graduate students voluntarily left their jobs, while 17% of college graduates left their jobs and 22% of workers with a high school education quit their jobs last year. About a quarter of lower-income workers left their jobs, with 24% quitting in 2021. That’s higher than 18% of middle-income employees and 11% of upper-middle-class workers.

But age was the most defining factor, with 37% of workers under 30 voluntarily leaving their jobs compared with 17% of workers aged 30-49 and 5% of employees aged 50-64.

These younger workers were more likely to leave, Parker said, because “they’re at a more transient part of their careers.”

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Ella Vincent is the personal finance reporter for Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @bookgirlchicago.

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